Monday, August 31, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cheese Bars

A few weeks ago, we made a super easy dessert: Chocolate Chip Cheese Bars. I've been making these for years. The recipe is from a magazine I no longer receive, haven't for years, and I don't even think it exists anymore. I think it was called Quick Cooking - ?
First, butter an 8x8 pan. Then press store bought or homemade cookie dough into the bottom of the pan (use about half the dough).
 Beat together 8 oz cream cheese, 1/2 c sugar, and 1 egg. Spread in pan on top the cookie dough.
 Crumble the remaining cookie dough into the pan on top of the cheesecake layer.
 Bake at 350 until done (35~40 min, but ours took longer).
Enjoy! And keep leftovers in the refrigerator.

This was the first time we used homemade cookie dough (this is our not a lot of time but want a dessert so we cheat with store bought cookie dough dessert). We made half of the Toll House recipe but would have liked a bit more dough so next time we'll make a full batch and whatever we don't use, just bake cookies on the side. Or next time we'll go back to store bought cookie dough!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. I think SP has my computer back to normal. That makes me happy.

2. Last week after I published my post about the crappy computer and horrible stomach pains, the smoke detector started beeping. Not a huge problem if you are not in a wheelchair. I ended up calling my dad to come save me from the beeping. He came over and removed the battery from our smoke detector and then as we were talking, there was another beep. And another. Turns out, it was actually the carbon monoxide detector beeping because of a low battery. That one I can reach - it's plugged into the wall next to the kitchen table. So I could have saved myself from nearly an hour of beeping, if only my ears were not old and if only I had remembered we even have a carbon monoxide detector that beeps when the battery is low.

3. Last week I read Vanishing Games and Silent Creed. I just discovered the Roger Hobbs books and have really enjoyed them. I'm looking forward to the next one. I always read Alex Kava's latest and enjoy them.

4. My magazine pile was under control last Thursday afternoon. By Monday, new issues of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Pittsburgh Magazine had arrived. So back to not under control.

5. The sunflowers died, the petunias died, summer is ending, winter is coming. This makes me sad. SP cut down the dead sunflowers but saved me the flowers that still looked OK. They've been on the kitchen island all week but are now drooping.

6. I like autumn, it is my favorite season, but it's August and I do NOT want to see Halloween stuff or Thanksgiving stuff yet. I'm looking at you, Michaels, the store displaying fall stuff the first weekend in August. And you, Yankee Candle, the place that just emailed me & sent me coupons for fall candles and fall/Halloween decor. It is summer until Wednesday, September 23, the date of the fall equinox.
7. This past weekend we made the annual peach pie with peaches from Dawsons Orchards. Yum!

8. We also made one last huge batch of pasta salad with fresh herbs since our herbs are starting to die. The basil did not do well this year, which makes me sad. Not nearly enough for a batch of pesto. We also grilled peaches and ate them with burrata & tarragon, grilled some chicken, and grilled zucchini.

9. I'm really not ready for summer to end.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Grilled Chicken with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

We eat a lot of grilled chicken in the summer. Sometimes it's simply seasoned with salt & pepper, sometimes seasoned with Northwoods seasoning. Sometimes there's a sauce, like this one: Quick Roasted Red Pepper Sauce from March~April 2015 Cook's Illustrated
It's simple and quick. It's very much like a romesco sauce we once made for with shrimp & grits. The sauce is delicious on the chicken. It's also delicious on top of bread and on top greens as a thick salad "dressing."
Instead of jarred roasted red peppers, we roasted our own on the grill and then guessed at how many to use. We also omitted the garlic and toasted our bread & hazelnuts in the oven. Pulse all that in a food processor with some sherry vinegar, honey, smoked paprika, and cayenne and you have a delicious sauce for atop grilled or sauteed chicken. 

Recipe here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. SP did whatever he wanted to do to my computer. Then my computer was super slow and horrible and annoying instead of faster and better so I yelled. I made him use it for a while and he saw what I meant. So he undid what he did. And it was better. Then he did something and it changed the look of my screens. And now I hate my computer again because I hate what he did and how it all looks AND it looks like I lost anything new since last Wednesday (new photos, docs, etc.) GRRRRRR. NOT A HAPPY WIFE.

I have no patience for this crap and no interest in again hunting for settings/fixing things the way I like them. I am never again letting my computer engineer husband touch my computer.

2. It doesn't help that I'm suffering through another bout of stomach distress. These cramp pains are so excruciatingly painful. It's like food poisoning cramping, but I'm not expelling anything, just doubling over in pain and gasping. I have no idea what did it this time. This week's menu: ribs, tomato tart, grilled skirt steak, grilled green beans, rolls. Since Tuesday night I've been eating bananas and bread.

There are no photos of my beautiful tomato tart or tasty ribs/steak because SP lost them from my computer.

3. This past week I read Kitchens of the Great Midwest, Ghostman, and The Innocent. My library pile is down to two books. All three books held my interest (I kept exiling SP to the basement to play video games so I could keep reading; I don't think he minded) and were enjoyable.

4. We watched Woman in Gold. It's not the best movie, but it held my interest. Stories like this always do.

5. We finished the last episode of the HBO John Adams mini-series. I thought the final episode was a little lacking compared to the previous ones, but overall I enjoyed the series.

6. I can't take this stupid computer anymore, or my stomach, so I'm off to take a nap! Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hough's

Last weekend was our niece's 5th birthday party. The party was in Greenfield, just a couple of blocks from Hough's, so we decided to go there for dinner after the party. It was an early dinner for us, 5 pm, and it wasn't too crowded inside. It's a typical bar inside, but spacious. Lots of wood and TVs showing sporting events. Here's what we ordered:
Fresh brewed iced tea! I was so happy. And a Brooklyn Vintage 2011 Monster for SP. Hough's has a HUGE beer selection.
Appetizer Grilled Cheese Sliders. It was a lot larger than I expected. It was basically 1.5 grilled cheese sandwiches. This could have been my meal. There were 3 flavors:
Provolone & Tomato
Goat Cheese, Scallions, and Bacon.
American Cheese.

The goat cheese, scallions, & bacon was my favorite. All were good but I thought they could have used more cheese. I like a lot of cheese on my grilled cheese. Oozing out all over.
SP's meal: Hough's House Burger with chicken, caramelized onions, cheddar, and special sauce slaw with side salad.
Close up of his sandwich.
Mac & Cheese with white cheddar, tomatoes, and bacon for me. More cheese! And bacon. Yum.

We enjoyed our food and beverages - I especially like that they serve fresh iced tea and not that awful pre-made crap or instant powder crap. It was nice and cool inside on a really hot August Saturday. The tables were clean and not sticky. Our server was friendly and food arrived at a nice pace. Hough's is definitely more of a beer than food place (many more pages of beer on the menu than food!). My food was good not great, but I don't drink beer so I'm not sure how often we'll return. It's a great place if you like beer and if you like above average bar food with your beer.


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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Creamy Chocolate Pudding

Way back in July, I had a lot of milk to use before it expired so we decided to make pudding. While the basic Better Homes & Gardens Chocolate Pudding is tasty, I wanted to try The Best Creamy Chocolate Pudding recipe I ripped from the September & October 2011 issue of Cook's Illustrated.
It did not disappoint. It makes the BH&G one taste bland and boring. Probably because this ones uses heavy cream and whole milk plus espresso powder plus cocoa powder & bittersweet chocolate. Apparently, too much cocoa butter makes for a grainy tasting pudding, but this recipe has just the right combination of cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate for lots of chocolate flavor without a grainy texture.
It's a lot of whisking but totally worth the extra effort. Smooth, creamy, chocolaty, not chalky, and wee hints of coffee and vanilla flavors.
Definitely a make again pudding.

Recipe here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Sunflowers out front
1. Last night SP wanted to do something to my computer. Something about switching something of my computer with something from his or some such thing. I don't really get it. I usually just ask if what he does will annoy me the next day or mess up my stuff. After spending some time copying stuff to the server to be sure I wouldn't lose anything if he messed up (yes, such confidence in my husband, who has a computer engineering degree), I plopped in front of the TV and left him to it.

I didn't ask how it was going. I knew whatever he was doing would largely be hands off, so I wasn't worried when he joined me on the couch a few minutes later. He was up & down several times for laundry and the computer thing and a few times I noticed him sort of wandering around and looking around -- that look he gets when he can't find something. I figured he "lost" his phone or tablet. "Losing" things is not uncommon. Sometimes I'll know exactly what he is looking for and I'll see it and start laughing because he forgot where he put his phone, or tablet, or wedding ring, or keys and is wandering around, frantically hoping he finds it before I realize he has again "lost" something.

Finally around 11:30pm he says, uhhh, you know what I said I was going to do? Well I had the part in my hand and then you called me in to do something and I set it down and now I don't remember where and I can't find it.

I started laughing. I asked him what this thing looked like and then got up to look for it. I went through the living room, kitchen, and my office and didn't see it. So I figured it was in his office. The disaster zone. He swears he knows what is in each and every pile and that he can find whatever needs finding. I doubt this. Usually I roll my eyes at the mess. When it looks especially disastrous I yell. Our cleaning lady, well, I told her to just vacuum in there. She's afraid to move anything lest she mess up the "system" or create an avalanche.

So I went in his office and about 1 minute later I spotted what had been "lost" for the past 3 hours.

Oh, SP.

So he spent the next hour doing what he meant to do 3 hours earlier.

2. Yesterday my mom & I went shopping. This time we went to Ross Park Mall, which is exciting in that it's not "our mall." "Our mall" is Robinson Mall, or South Hills Village. So Ross Park is kind of a treat. Anyway, we decided to have lunch at Cheesecake Factory. I was very disappointed. We were seated at a table with crumbs on it. The girl at the table next to us chewed with her mouth open and the tables are so close together you can't help but notice everything about your table neighbors. My favorite sandwich is no longer on the menu. It's not as tasty as it used to be. I suppose it was better than mall court food, but... I'm definitely not much of a fan anymore.
Tall sunflower!
3. The sunflowers SP planted for me are blooming. They make me happy! I love sitting in the living room, gazing out the front window at them.
Sunflowers by the side fence
4. I read the latest novel by Kathy Reichs, Speaking in Bones. Always enjoy them. My library book pile is down to 4.

5. My magazine pile is down to 3 from 5.

6. This weekend we have to go through tunnels and over rivers for our niece's birthday party. We're not looking forward to it because the inbound Ft. Pitt tunnels are going to be closed and the party is in an un-airconditioned old church basement on what is possibly going to be a 90 degree day (according to The Weather Channel).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shrimp Salad

During summer, I don't like re-heating dinner in the oven. It's just too hot. I prefer cold meals. Like salads - regular salad, bread salad, fattoush salad, chicken salad, potato salad, pasta salad, and this Shrimp Salad.
Better Shrimp Salad is a recipe I ripped out of the July/August 2007 Cook's Illustrated. Sure, we know what goes in shrimp salad, but sometimes when we wing it, we just don't get an end result as delicious as when we dine out. It's usually good, just not great. So we decided to follow the recipe.
We did make a few changes. We grilled the shrimp instead of boiling them. We substituted fresh chives for chopped shallot. And we probably used a bit under 1/4 c mayonnaise since we do not like our salads too mayonnaise-y. Just enough mayo to bind it.The end result is fantastic. SP is quite good at grilling jumbo shrimp so they were perfectly cooked. The fresh chives, tarragon, and parsley complemented the shrimp and lemon juice/mayo. The 1/3 cup of finely chopped celery was the perfect amount for some crunch. We ate it on a Mediterra croissant the first night. The second night, we ate it on Mediterra whole grain bread and it was even tastier after everything had a chance to marinate together for a day. And then, to our dismay, it was gone.

But not forgotten. We'll definitely make this again.

Recipe here.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Zucchini Pickles

Way back over the 4th of July weekend, we decided to grill burgers and to make things a little more exciting, we decided to try these Zucchini Pickles alongside our burgers. We had just picked our first garden zucchini so that one was turned into pickles.
Of course as we were pickling the zucchini, we discovered we didn't have any apple cider vinegar. Kind of an essential ingredient for pickling! After a quick trip down the hill to GEMD, we were back in business.
Fennel, sugar, peppercorns, salt, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and apple cider vinegar, heated, and then poured over the zucchini & fresh oregano.
We ate them over the next week. Well, SP did. Turns out he loves zucchini pickles but me, not so much. I could taste the fennel and vinegar but the zucchini wasn't as crisp as I had expected and I didn't really like the texture of the zucchini rounds. SP thought they were wonderful and plans to make them again. I think I simply prefer my zucchini cooked while SP likes it raw, cooked, and pickled.

Recipe here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sienna on the Square

Yesterday was a rare Sunday Date Day for us. We had tickets to see Kinky Boots. That show was the reason we bought a 3 show package to the summer CLO shows. It is a fantastic show and a treat to have Billy Porter come to his hometown to play Lola. After the show, we headed to Market Square and enjoyed the beautiful day for a bit before the smell of cigarette smoke chased us over to dinner a bit earlier than our reservation. Our dinner destination: Sienna on the Square. We had been to Sienna before, in September 2013, and were excited to try it again because it had been so long since our last visit. It was almost like a new-to-us place.
Happily, despite being about 10 minutes early, we were seated right away. We were just inside the opened front - enough inside to enjoy the a/c but close enough to the outside to enjoy the sunshine & outdoors & see Market Square. I ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc while SP opted for iced tea and a glass of pinot grigio. 

We ordered and ate a lot of food:
Bread with a white bean, garlic, and caramelized onion puree topped with olive oil. The bread was delicious, crusty and soft inside. The bean puree was a big hit with SP, who ate it all.
Housemade Stracciatella (cherry tomato, basil, arugula, olive oil, grilled bread). This was excellent! The cheese was so fresh tasting. We both shoveled it in rather rapidly. I loved the grilled bread. We can never get our grilled bread to have that great char/grill flavor at home.
Appetizer special of the day: Shrimp with deep fried polenta, tomatoes and microgreens. The polenta cubes had a crispy fried exterior but were so soft and flavorful inside, almost like deep fried cheese, but better (yes, I just said this was better than fried cheese). Four large shrimp, red and yellow tomatoes. I used some of the bread to mop up all the sauce on this plate.
Sienna Chopped Salad (romaine, tomato, cucumber, onion, crouton, red wine vinaigrette, gorgonzola). Initially I asked for no onions, but it turns out the tomato, cucumber, and onions are marinated together. I definitely wanted tomato & cucumber, so I got onions, too. The salad was a little strong on onion flavor for me (even though I picked out the onion bits, the flavor was everywhere) but we both liked the overall flavor of the salad. The greens were crispy and chopped bite size so I wasn't trying to cut them or figuring out how to neatly cram a gigantic leafy green in my mouth.
SP ordered Tomato Bisque (basil oil, grilled bread, parmesan). The above photo of the bowl is very important. Note the tiny base and wide top. Before he even had a taste, he pushed it toward me for a taste (and a photo) and it tipped over. Plunk! Soup all over the table. He looked so sad and disappointed because he loves tomato soup. I felt terrible. I was so surprised all I could do was stare in disbelief. We were staring at this puddle of soup on the table when our server returned and noticed the mishap. 
They were so nice and understanding about it. Our server got SP a fresh bowl of soup and someone else mopped up the tomato mess on the table. Once his fresh bowl of soup arrived, he was very careful to not tip the bowl! The soup is very tasty tomato soup. My favorite part is the grilled bread, which I kept dunking in his soup for small tastes. I should have taken a photo of the tomato puddle on the table, but I was so shocked it just didn't occur to me.
SP's entree was Prosciutto Wrapped Salmon (eggplant caponata, capers, almonds, cranberry, balsamic vinegar, arugula). He was pretty full so he ate only half but said the prosciutto was crispy and the salmon was cooked exactly as he likes it. 
I chose Meatball & Ricotta Flatbread (tomato sauce, provonello, fresh basil). I was really tempted by the Short Ribs, but I remembered that last time I was tempted by the flatbread, so I figured I should try that this time. Initially I wanted the Prosciutto & Arugula Flatbread, but I've also wanted to try one of their meatballs, so I opted for that flatbread instead. It's a thin crust, but thick enough to support the ingredients, and not cracker crispy. Thick, pureed, deep red sauce like my mom makes. Slices of their meatball atop ricotta and provonello. I wish I could have eaten more than 2 slices because it was so good, but I was full. The rest is lunch later today.
We were too full for dessert at Sienna, but the cannoli sounded good, so we got an order of cannoli to go. We enjoyed them later Sunday evening, during the True Detective finale and with our evening tea. There were 3 small cannoli in the box and at first, we both said, oh, just one, save the third for tomorrow. I figured I'd photograph the third on Monday during the day, with better lighting. But they were so tasty, crispy shell, smooth and creamy filling, that we ended up splitting the third one. I asked SP to take a photo of the last one. The above & below photos are the result of trying to take a photograph in our kitchen at 9 pm at night. Not that great. 
I'm glad we finally got back to Sienna on the Square. I really like the dark, wood and brick interior, but also the openness to the outside. Both times our service was wonderful, attentive and friendly but not overly so. Extra points this time for how wonderful they were about the spilled soup! The food is delicious, too. a great place to relax with drinks and/or dinner before or after a show, especially on a sunny, summer Sunday afternoon.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Tasting: Braddock's Brasserie New Menu Items

Last night we went to a tasting of Braddock's new, French inspired summer menu. It was a preview of some of the dishes you could enjoy at Chef Shaffer's Chef’s Table Dinner that will be held on Thursday, August 13. The four course dinner will include a Chef’s welcome and is priced at $40 which includes appetizer, salad, entree and dessert, with optional wine pairing available for an additional $25.We both like Braddock's a lot and these new items made us want to return soon.

Here's what we tasted:
Huitres: East Coast Oysters, Citrus Mignonette, Hot Pepper Jam served on a bed of salt. The oysters were plump & juicy and the hot pepper jam wasn't too hot/spicy. 
Tuna Tartare: Avocado, Preserved Radish, Harissa Orange Mignonette. I do not eat raw fish, but it's one of SP's favorite things and he thought this dish was fantastic. I did try the super thin & crispy cracker. SP said there was just a hint of harissa and the radishes were very thinly sliced.
“Tasty” Duck A L’Orange: Roasted Cauliflower, Fava Beans, Candied Orange, Bourbon Orange Glaze. I love roasted cauliflower so I thought this dish was terrific. I like duck, too, and turns out I especially like duck with bourbon & orange flavor. Chef Shaffer told us he makes the stock from crushed duck bones and then strain it through a coffee filter to get all the bones out.
Bouillabaisse Rouille: Walleye, Mussels, Shrimp, Potato, Rainbow Carrot, Celery, Grilled Bread. The crostini had a delicious rouille of bread, roasted garlic, oil, and herbs. I ate just a bit in case the garlic bothered me, but gosh it was tasty! The seafood was very good, too, a hint of curry and saffron flavor in the broth. 
I took 10+ photos of this Pot-Au-Feu: Six-Hour Brisket, Potato, Spring Vegetable Fricassee, Jus and for some reason, they were all awful. This was the best of the bunch. Maybe it was the dark mini skillet? The shiny sauce on the brisket? Whatever it was, I was happy to stop taking photos and dig in because it was delicious. Little bits of asparagus, peas, carrot, parsnip, potato. My favorite. If I read my scrawled notes correctly, Chef Shaffer braises 200 lbs of brisket at a time and gives each vegetable it's own treatment for best flavor and then adds them all to finish the dish (not like when we braise at home and toss everything in the pot at the same time!).
Grilled Chicken Basil Pesto Risotto: Ricotta Cheese, Lemon Zest, Tomato Fondue, Coddled Egg, Snow. The coddled egg mixes in to add creaminess. This had a nice lemon flavor and the chicken was a bit peppery which went well with the lemon flavor.
 Plus, snow = grated parmesan cheese.
Arugula Salad: Faro, Crisp Apple, Candied Onion, Bacon Lardon, Citrus Mignonette. I liked the tiny arugula instead of giant leaves that make neatly eating salad impossible. Lots of bacon & vinegar flavor and bits of farro scattered among the arugula leaves. 
Dessert: Peach Cobbler “PIE”rogi: (August’s ‘Pierogi of the Month’ feature) Peach Cobbler Filling, Mascarpone Whipped Cream, Cinnamon Ice Cream, Warm Bourbon Caramel Drizzle. This dish is a whole lot of flavors I love. Chef Shaffer said the peach filling is his grandmother's recipe. I would go back just to have this dessert. 

Many thanks to Chef Shaffer & Kristen for inviting us to enjoy this delicious food. If you haven't yet tried Braddock's you should - and the Chef's Table Dinner next Thursday sounds like a great time to do so!